The Smithsonian says that 35 red dresses in different shapes and sizes have been hung around the National Museum of the American Indian to memorialize the potentially thousands of Native American women that go missing or are murdered each year.
The installation of empty red dresses outside the museum is part of “The REDress Project,” which aims to bring awareness to the “racialized nature of violent crimes against Native women and to evoke a presence through the marking of absence,” the museum said in a statement to The Hill.
Jaime Black, the Canadian-based artist behind the piece, told Smithsonian Magazine that she chose to use red dresses for the installation because she viewed it as the “color of lifeblood — it connects all of us and it is sacred but it is also an allusion to what is happening to our women.”
“Different cultures all around the world have different spiritual meanings for the color red, and I want people to bring that to the dresses,” Black said.
The museum’s deputy director, Machel Monenerkit, said in a statement that although Black’s artwork focuses primarily on missing native women in Canada, she hopes the museum can bring “wider attention to the issue” through the new installation, which will be up through March to commemorate Women’s History Month.
“Sadly this issue transcends borders and affects Indigenous women throughout the Americas,” Monenerkit continued. “Art transforms, and definitely transcends, and moves our perspectives of how we face a tragedy.”
Monenerkit said the installation marks the first time “The REDress Project” has appeared in the United States.
“We hope the public takes the opportunity to see,” she said.
Last week, New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland (D), one of the first two Native American women to be elected to Congress in November, wore red at a congressional hearing on missing and murdered indigenous women.
At the time, Haaland said she wore the color in “honor of missing and murdered indigenous women.”
“Indigenous women deserve to be protected just like anyone else in this country,” Haaland said.
At the hearing, Haaland also brought attention to Savanna’s Act, a bill former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) first introduced in 2017 to combat violence against Native American women.
The bill is named after Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a 22-year-old pregnant woman who was killed by a woman who wanted to abduct her baby. It seeks to combat what advocates say is an epidemic of violence against Native American women.
The bill has since been reintroduced by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), who vowed last December to help pick up where Heitkamp left off with the measure’s passage.
The bill “she has helped to advance, I am going to encourage every step of the way, aggressively and early,” Murkowski’s office said at the time.
“I’m looking for partners. I’ve already talked to Sen. [Maria] Cantwell [(D-Wash.)], she’s willing to join up with me,” she added.